6 Clicks: James Hamilton

In our occasional feature we invite guests to select the six cultural links that might sustain them if, by some mischance, they were forced to spend eternity in a succession of airport departure lounges with only an iPad or similar device for company.
Today’s voyager is James Hamilton, a freelance writer and former sport psychotherapist based in Edinburgh. James’ work has appeared in the The Times and BBC Online and he  has contributed to programmes on sports psychology themes for Channel Four and Sky One. He blogs at More Than Mind Games and of course has contributed brilliant articles about forgotten elements of sports history to the Dabbler’s Row Z feature.

When it comes down to it, I’m a terrible  at the passive consumption of culture: trapped for eternity in the arrivals lounge, I’d fret if all I could do was read or look at something. I’m going to need prompts and jump-off points; triggered memories and trains of thought to keep me typing – I can type on the Ipad, can’t I? while I wait for Captain Flashheart to botch his rescue attempt. There’s a lot to cover, but I’m only allowed six choices. They’ll have to double up.. 

I’m beginning with a sports film  from pre-War India. The beauty of sports history for me is encapsulated in what George Szirtes said a few weeks back: I chose football not only because I like it, but because it seems unpromising to those who look down on sports …  and although this is hockey, not football, the film is packed with the potential of all that that sentence means for a sports historian. Furthermore, the Indians beautifully, elegantly thrash the Nazis in Berlin at the ’36 Olympics, looking, as they do it, like men from the future. The music is Eric Satie’s Gymnopedies no.1; at the airport, it stands in for Montmartre, and Modigliani, Kiki’s city and that whole Parisian ’10s and ’20s where just about everything got underway. 


My next choice involves the fight against totalitarianism too but is as much or more about the sense of being alive. Gerda Taro was a young photographer, crushed by one of Franco’s tanks in the Spanish Civil War. I watch this, with its Piaf-lite soundtrack, and think of Sam Tyler digging the paper knife deep into his hand. The faces of the friends you were meant to have but were born too late to meet gaze warmly at you from old photographs and outside there’s nothing but grey skies and traffic. 

My next click takes us into the War itself. It’s Powell and Pressburger’s 49th Parallel, and a small team of Nazis are stranded on the Newfoundland coast. As they travel west in search of escape and glory, Canadian decency and courage picks them off one by one. In this scene, Peter, the leader of a Hutterite settlement, offers asylum – this is your home – to Vogel, a reluctant Nazi who, through honest labour in their kitchens, has won back his soul and trade and manhood. This just about puts it all into focus, as Joe Cocker would say – and that’s right: that’s all of politics, for me, right there. 

My next choice is more recent and closer to home. Oliver Bulleid had spent the late ’30s undercover for Nigel Gresley on the continent,  keeping lines open to German engineers and dodging the Gestapo. 30 years on, here are Bulleid’s own creations, suddenly shockingly lost and antique in that startling 60s sunshine that corroded everything old, trapped among high-rise offices at Waterloo to the sound of – what else? Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks. Ray Davies is what Philip Larkin would have become in happier times, and between the Chatterly Ban and the Beatles last LP the Kinks, Beatles, Who, Hollies and Stones wrote all of urban England’s folksong. It would be music from the English after that, not engineering, and I need both on the Ipad. 

An American woman at university told me that my English voice was my fortune: go to New York and talk, she said: marry yourself a rich American divorcee. I did marry one, in the end, although for love, and not rich, and in quite different circumstances, and anyway, over here. But what if I had gone – as Andrew Sullivan of my generation did, and Christopher Hitchens before him? The East Coast of America is where many of us store the lives we never lived. So here’s a dream New York, in the opening of Woody Allen’s Manhattan with its glorious Gershwin soundtrack. Implicit in Gershwin, you can hear all of that glorious pre-Miles jazz from New Orleans and Chicago that came and went in the space of his brief, curtailed adulthood.  

My last pick takes us back to the 1930s once again, and although Charles Trenet fought the Nazis bravely, this isn’t about that. Windex, women and song, and it was never like this for James Lees-Milne, was it?  Not a patch on Boum or La Mer, but gloriously absurd and silly and good-humoured. In a sane world, this would be the title music for Newsnight but this isn’t a sane world. It’s Heathrow, so I need something silly and absurd, and what the heck’s kept Captain Flashheart?

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14 thoughts on “6 Clicks: James Hamilton

  1. b.smedley@dsl.pipex.com'
    March 31, 2011 at 08:56

    Captain Flashheart has been delayed infinitely so that you will write more of this, which I, for one, really would gladly read all day. Powell & Pressburger, Gerda Taro, Ray Davies (‘what Philip Larkin would have become in happier times’) and James Lees-Milne, all in one post – there are times when one knows that however good the next few hours are going to be, it’s all going to be downhill from here, and this is one of those times.

  2. wormstir@gmail.com'
    March 31, 2011 at 09:05

    I cant watch videos on this computer at work, so I’m going to have to wait all day to see them, but I’ve got a feeling I’m going to like them all!

    • Worm
      March 31, 2011 at 18:53

      I’ve watched them all now, and my suspicions were correct – I loved every one of them – thanks James!!!

  3. john.hh43@googlemail.com'
    john halliwell
    March 31, 2011 at 09:13

    Each and every click a joy, and a great narrative to accompany them.

  4. rory@peritussolutions.com'
    March 31, 2011 at 11:44

    Thanks for an enjoyable post with interesting choices. After watching the Manhattan clip I clicked on Woody’s “why is life worth living” clip – am tempted to add The Dabbler to the list … it does lift the spirits.

    • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
      March 31, 2011 at 13:14

      Good on you, Roryoc!

  5. andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
    March 31, 2011 at 13:17

    These are all so unspeakably wonderful (perhaps hockey my favourite) that it’s a testament not only to James’s taste but also to Youtube’s power for good. (As well as evil, of course.)

    • Worm
      March 31, 2011 at 13:31

      nb. see ‘Rebecca Black’

  6. bugbrit@live.com'
    Banished To A Pompous Land
    March 31, 2011 at 15:49

    And I too married my American. Like you James, for love not money but in my case over there, that is over here.

    I’d take a little issue with the ‘East Coast of America’ needing to narrow it down to Boston in the North to DC in the South. Living as I do in Southern Virginia Woody Allen’s world is still as far from mine as when I lived in Yorkshire and first watched that opening.

    Truth be told New York is a nice place to visit, cradle of Modernism and all that but god knows I couldn’t live there. Its full of New Yorkers and New Yorkers are Londoners on steroids.

  7. john.hh43@googlemail.com'
    john halliwell
    March 31, 2011 at 15:49

    A great thing about The Dabbler, and certain other blogs, particularly Thought Experiments, is the way it so often inspires me to search for more knowledge about a subject, and to revisit aspects of subjects I’d largely forgotten. Today’s 6 Clicks is such a post: I was particularly taken by the revelation (for me) of the undercover work of Oliver Bulleid in the late 1930s, and which I now intend to follow up. And the reminder of the existence of 49th Parallel had me returning to RVW’s music for the film; I’d forgotten just how wonderful it is. Forgive me, James, if I take the liberty of slipping in this clip:

    • b.smedley@dsl.pipex.com'
      March 31, 2011 at 20:52

      That’s a really lovely recording, John. British film music of the 1930s and 40s is so often surprisingly effective, even when heard at some distance from the films it was created to accompany.

      • john.hh43@googlemail.com'
        john halliwell
        March 31, 2011 at 21:57

        It is, Barendina. I agree about the effectiveness of a lot of the film music of that period. I love the score written by the greatly underrated William Alwyn for Carol Reed’s ‘Odd Man Out’ from 1946. It is quite superb.The film is often referred to as a British classic – James Mason’s Irish accent apart, and Alwyn’s music adds tremendously to the impact. And, as you suggest, such music is effective at a distance from the film

  8. Gaw
    March 31, 2011 at 19:48

    A moving but happy selection with a great finish (what a lovely lot of scrubbers!). You uncovered some real gems there – period stuff but still possessing tremendous immediacy. I wonder, James, whether you have ever felt born out of your time?

    • jameshamilton1968@gmail.com'
      April 1, 2011 at 08:37

      I think I did feel out of time, Gaw, until about 1994 or 1995: growing up in the seventies can do that to someone, and I have no nostalgia whatsoever for my younger days. It’s easy to pick up one of the early Anytown Past and Present photo books and, comparing the High Street 1900 with the High Street 1976, wonder what the hell went wrong. Pick up a newer one, when the modern pictures are 1994+ and it becomes clear that, in places, we’ve undone quite a lot of damage since then. London has certainly improved beyond all measure since I moved there in 1991, although there are pubs in Chelsea I’d like back, please.. These days, it’s just that a considerable chunk of the cultural media I like happened to enjoy periods of creativity and originality in the 1860-1940 period and I believe coincidentally that understanding of that period is an ongoing historical project worth taking interest in.

      Banished, I would have to confess that, living in Edinburgh, “Londoner on steroids” is EXACTLY how I feel.

      John, Bulleid-vs-Hitler is set out briefly in Don Hale’s book “Mallard”: it’s probably a good thing that he was in Germany BEFORE becoming Southern CME in 1937, as the Nazis were still feeling their way and wouldn’t have had the confidence to do too much to him. Chapelon, Bulleid, Gresley and Bugatti were close colleagues, and their German counterparts, proud of the Flying Hamburger and the 127mph 05 class, didn’t want to be treated as state secrets exactly either. The sheer loss of potential represented by WW2’s ending of all that just breaks the heart.

      Everyone’s been immensely kind about my picks. Thank you very much!

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